How important is a service history?

We’re always told never to buy a car without a service history, but just how much difference does it really make?

Should you automatically discount the purchase of a used car just because its service history is missing or incomplete? And what difference does it make if the car has been serviced by an independent specialist rather than a franchised dealer?

Jeff Paterson is chief car editor at valuation experts Glass’s. He comments: “Without a service history there is always the suspicion a car has been clocked or that important components haven’t been replaced as part of the service schedule. Any history is therefore important, but as a car gets older and its value drops, the service history makes little difference, unless it’s a prestige or luxury model.”

Paterson adds: “Buyers will always gravitate towards a car with history as it provides peace of mind, but the age and brand of car can make a significant difference. Prestige cars would prove very difficult to move on without history but as they get older, condition becomes the main consideration.

Budget cars are bought on price and condition, so the service history acts more as a selling feature than adding any additional value”. Scott Willis is sales director of Arnold Clark. He observes: “A lack of history simply means that the general condition of the car needs to be examined that bit more carefully and can make a small difference to the price paid. 

A service history is only one consideration, along with the vehicle’s cosmetic and mechanical condition, so the service history alone is significant but not crucial”. No surprises there then; a car with a service history is often more saleable and more valuable than one without.

Paterson continues: “What can really make a big difference to a car’s value is a missing history. A three-year old car could be worth up to around ten per cent less without the necessary paperwork, but after 8-10 years or more, condition becomes the main consideration”.

But just because you lose your car’s service history, it doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. Most manufacturers can replace a service book as long as the car has been maintained by a franchised dealer – everything is logged on computer.

Complications are rare; you’ll need to prove that you own the car, the book may be marked as a duplicate and it may be that the service records don’t go back to when the car was new, but piecing everything together is usually possible – as long as it’s been maintained by an official outlet.